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Taylor v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

March 28, 2019

Myron Taylor, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Through this action, Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Plaintiff appealed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The matter is currently before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rules 73.02(b)(2)(a) and 83.VII.02, et seq., D.S.C.

         The Report, filed February 7, 2019, recommends the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. ECF No. 14. On February 21, 2019, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report. ECF No. 16. On March 6, 2019, the Commissioner filed a response to Plaintiff's objections. ECF No. 17. For the reasons stated below, the court declines to adopt the Report and remands to the Commissioner for further administrative action.


         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court reviews only for clear error in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (stating that “in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'”) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).

         The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. Section 205(g) of the Act provides, “[t]he findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”[1] 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The court must uphold the Commissioner's decision as long as it was supported by substantial evidence and reached through the application of the correct legal standard. Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir. 2005). This standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the court's findings for those of the Commissioner. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). “From this it does not follow, however, that the findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted. The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative action.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). “[T]he courts must not abdicate their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the [Commissioner's] findings, and that his conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58. However, the court does not “reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653. “Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ.” Id.


         Plaintiff applied for SSI in September of 2014, alleging disability as of January 1, 2012 (later amended to September 18, 2014) due to mental issues, dislocated right shoulder, lower back pain, and bipolar disorder. R[2]. at 262. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On March 29, 2017, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On May 31, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision, finding Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from the alleged onset date through the date of decision. R. at 15-33. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, which was denied, making the determination of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff filed this action December 19, 2017. ECF No. 1.


         The Magistrate Judge recommends the court affirm the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff objects to the Report, arguing: (1) the ALJ erred in failing to properly evaluate the demands of Plaintiff's past relevant work, potential conflicts with Plaintiff's RFC, and his ability to perform alternate jobs; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to assess the credibility of Plaintiff's father; and (3) the ALJ made “multiple errors” when evaluating opinion evidence. ECF No. 16. The Commissioner argues Plaintiff's objections essentially rehash arguments made in her brief before the Magistrate Judge. ECF No. 17. She also argues Plaintiff's reliance on Thomas v. Berryhill, 916 F.3d 307 (4th Cir. 2019) is misplaced. Id. at 2.

         1) Past Relevant Work/Alternative Jobs

         Plaintiff first argues the ALJ failed to “adequately evaluate the demands of Taylor's past work or compare them to his RFC before finding that he could return to this work.” ECF No. 16 at 1. He contends the alternate jobs offered by the Vocational Expert (“VE”) conflict with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT” or “Dictionary”), and the ALJ did not resolve this conflict. Id. He notes the Magistrate Judge agreed, but found this error harmless based on the ALJ's findings of alternate jobs in the national economy. Id. at 2. Plaintiff disagrees with the Magistrate Judge's assertion that the ALJ's error was harmless, citing recent Fourth Circuit case law. Id. at 3.

         The ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, with nonexertional limitations; specifically, he is limited to “performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks” which he can maintain for at least two hours, and is limited to “no required ongoing interaction with the general public or close, team-type interaction with co-workers.” ECF No. 9-2 at 23. While the ALJ found Plaintiff could return to his past relevant work as a warehouse laborer or canvas laborer, the Magistrate Judge found this conclusion unsupported by substantial evidence. ECF No. 14 at 9. However, the Magistrate Judge found the ALJ's alternate finding other jobs exist in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform meant remand was not necessary. Id.

         Plaintiff cites Thomas, 916 F.3d at 313-14, and argues the Magistrate Judge is in error because there is an unresolved apparent conflict between his limitation to perform “simple, routine repetitive tasks” and a GED reasoning level of 2, which is required by the alternate jobs identified by the ALJ. ECF No. 16 at 2. The Commissioner argues no conflict exists because Plaintiff was limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks, as opposed to “short, simple instructions, ” and the limitation does not conflict ...

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